Manjulakshmi – a designer who dreams big. Dreams of participating in the New York Fashion Week to the creation of a unique sustainable textile material, it all became her reality. Having faith in the adage “Dream, believe and it will happen”, some of them have come true while others are still “work in progress”.
As the eldest of 3 siblings, she became the subject of her mum’s design fantasies, with a wardrobe of unique clothing. Not surprising, that her mother has been the source of her inspiration, to the extent of incorporating her name (Gils) into her brand.
Manjulakshmi was a dancer in her younger days, designing and making costumes for herself due to the lack of designers at that point in time. As she progressed, she delved into choreography and working on dramas as well. She started designing for herself in her 5th or 6th grade. She was grateful that she was in Qatar as it allowed her the freedom to design and wear without being openly criticized, contrary to her experience in other countries especially when she dresses differently from others around her. Her sister used to be her model as she was very willing to try out her outfits. To her father delight Manjulakshmi was accepted at the engineering and medical faculties, however Manjulakhshmi opted for the creative, her father encouraged and supported her, taking her to Souk Waqif to choose fabrics and work with tailors. More significantly, he was agreeable for her to enroll in a recently introduced fashion design course, her final year project was to undertake research on natural textile materials and sustainable designs, this project exposed her to a wider world of the textile industry and receiving an invitation by the French Government to attend a French university. Upon her return to Qatar, she joined VCU and never looked back since. It was at VCU, where she was commissioned to design a wedding dress for a member of the royal family, themed “Garden of Love” , this dress most certainly became a labour of love, encrusted with gem stones and hand embroidery, due to the exclusive and confidential nature of the project, she was unable to take photos of her own creations.
Her initial interest was bridal couture design and evening wear as she was fascinated with handiwork, details and intricate patterns, 2014 was the breakthrough event in 2014 when she showcased her bridal and evening wear couture collection at the 7th International Fashion Show and Wedding Exhibition, no sooner did she learn that there was a bigger market for comfortable and practical clothing, giving her the opportunity to be creative while making it work for business sustainability, jellabiyas and abayas provided her with the necessary inspiration. A designing skills opened the doors to yet another opportunity, providing designing consultation for women who are unable to attend design courses or classes and assisting them to develop their design ideas.
Her research into fabrics exposed her to the use of silk and linens for medical purposes, to experience for herself how these materials would react to its use in fashion design, she virtually wore these materials herself for a whole year with surprising results. On one festive occasion, her silk dress caught fire but, as silk is not a very flammable material, it practically saved her life. She was, therefore, convinced to use silk in her designs.
Later in 2014, during the cancer awareness month in 2014, she started the “Think Pink, Wear Green” movement where pink represents health and green means wearing natural fabrics. Through the movement, supporters make a promise to use natural fabric at least once a week. Much to her surprise, designers and students supported the movement by designing clothes made of linen fabric. Linen, unlike polyester, adapts to the weather making it suitable both for winter and summer especially in the desert climate of the Middle East.
Through research she also discovered that linen provides comfort for cancer patients as it keeps the patient’s body temperature at an optimum whilst undergoing chemotherapy.
Manjulakshmi’s favourite fabric is linen. For her, it is the perfect material regardless of the wrinkling quality. It is also becoming more popular in the Middle East although she now finds what she termed as “artificial” linens being used. Her biggest challenge, however, remains in finding comfortable fabrics which can be used for any occasion.
“designing is an art. A fashion designer needs to be an engineer to know about textiles, an artist to draw, have the skills to be a master cutter and have a good business sense to market the designs and creations.”
Her inspiration comes from her journey and surroundings
Her “Batulla” inspired design actually came from her childhood days.
In her bridal collection, for example, she tries to bring out the beauty of the feminine body, bringing the inner beauty to the outside. Not surprisingly, she emphasizes on draping and making it more luxurious by adding handiwork.
Her new inspiration comes from the palm leaf and so she added pleats as a reflection of the palm leaf.
Periodically, her design creations are showcased for exhibitions purposes only.
“ abayas have and will always be timeless classics.” It is comfortable to wear and suitable for any occasion. New York Fashion week has definitely made the abaya more accessible and appealing , as we see the abaya featured in subsequent fashion week stories.
Manjulakshmi’s creative style is an expression of herself – She designs based on her own visualization of herself and what she would personally like to wear for the occasion.
organic fabrics – the use of linen, silk and wool (although not popular in the Middle East due to the weather conditions).
Pure silk is used in most of her bridal -Contrary to popular belief, silk is not high maintenance. (She uses normal hair shampoo and conditioner to maintain it! )
2017, fashion trend is focus on comfort, loose, stripes and sporty colours – pink and electric blue being the accent colours
Further research is in her plans which means taking a break for University with a view to create the “ideal fabric”
With the surge of such a large designing community and so many upcoming talented designers her aim is to establish a sustainable designing community in Qatar
I had the privilege to be on the set of her latest fashion shoot at Al Shaqab., bringing the retro look into her Aadima collection.
Advice to Young Designers
Her advice to young designers is – “you don’t need a university degree to be a designer. You just need to have creative thoughts and be able to bring it to life. It is something related to art. strive to be different, be original ; lean and apply new techniques; understand the body to know the fit.
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